Mean Genes   9.15.2000

By Rob O'connor

Stars are known for certain things. Mostly they're not good. Sure, sure, sometimes they develop a political conscience. Sometimes they rally around a cause, apartheid, starvation, amnesty. But mostly they spend their time doing things they shouldn't. Overindulging, shall we say? For every born again liar who campaigns against drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, there's a van load of groupies just waiting to bust down proverbial door and get it on. Who can resist such temptation?

Actors and actresses leave Los Angeles all the time to get away from life's rich pleasures, settling in Idaho or the deserts of Texas to bring their children up with 'real' values' and among 'real' people. Rock stars sometimes do the same. But mostly they die early, or end up looking like the guys in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or the Jefferson Airplane -- nervous, twitchy guys who get a sparkle in their eyes when they think about all that freebase and, ahem, poontang that once flowed as freely as water down Niagra Falls.....ah, well, back on topic...

What if Rod was one of us

The fact is most of us would be easily lead into temptation. Some easier than others. Some more tragically than others. Some of us might actually develop a conscience and decide to work towards world peace. But others would just get caught up over lighting the PCV valve over and over until it's too late.

Now we've all known that alcoholism goes deeper than the idea that the guy just doesn't know when to leave the bar. Who with a straight face could try and tell us that drunk driving is ok? Yet, we do these things over and over. No matter how destructive. No matter how many times it rips apart our lives. No matter how many people we hurt. And why?

Book report time

A new book entitled Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts does a damn fine job at explaining our human failings. Written by two Harvard Ph.D.s, Terry Burnham, a Ph.D. in Business Economics and Jay Phelan, a Ph.D. in Biology, the book clearly and concisely examines our less than becoming behavior and finds answers in our genetic codes, our hormonal imbalances and testy brain chemistries.

Not that we aren't to blame. Killing children and hiding them in your freezer is still not going to be looked upon any more benevolently now that we know the voices in your head weren't your fault. But it does give us insight into overeating, overspending, horniness, drug abuse.... and once identified gives us a chance at correcting our inadequacies before they topple us and cause hardship and tears.

It's not some corny self-help book either. It doesn't preach. In fact, it doesn't care if you continue to abuse yourself beyond recognition. It just attempts to explain why you bought that car you can't afford, ate that box of donuts you don't need and why, lordy lord, you continue to drink that cheap, generic beer when your bladder and liver are begging for an elevated variety.

A great quote from the book itself

''When we take a pleasure-causing drug, our brain acts as if appropriately released neurotransmitters were flooding the system, '' the authors write. ''The brain thinks we have done something great, such as finding food and warmth, when in fact we may be crouched over a filthy toilet with a hypodermic of heroin in our arm.''

The conclusion you could've reached on your own had you read the book in the first place

Yee-Haa! There you have it. Place the blame where you will, but we keep tricking our brains without meaning to. Our bodies never came with instruction manuals and judging by some of the names of these damn chemicals riding through our bodies, we wouldn't remember what they were called and or what they do no matter how many times we'd re-read the manual.

Bottom line is Mean Genes is a fascinating read. It won't have you reaching for the Antabuse anytime soon. But it'll give you something to throw back at mom and dad when they wonder why you aren't the little brain trust they thought you were.

It's their fault, anyway.